I am a devoted, happy-to-be-rotund foodie. Like millions of similar people, I watch food shows with avid interest, follow well-known chefs, drool over their food and cadge recipes. Just a few days ago, I watched a CNN Talk Asia show with Mario Batali, the chef who launched Babbo, Lupa, and a slew of successful restaurants plus Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world.
Mario is just opening another Lupa, in Hong Kong, his foray into China. He and his partner, Joe Bastianich, son of famous chef, Lidia Bastianich, founded B&B (Batali & Bastianich). Here are some interesting branding insights gleaned from Mario Batali’s experiences.
1. Branding is always visual
Distinctiveness. That’s the key to being a brand. You can’t fade in. You have to stand out. The power of your personality combined with the uniqueness of your choices. And I kid you not, you are unique. You just have to identify that one burr that keeps you from being yet another body and be prepared to flaunt it.
Shorts and orange Crocs are what do it for Mario – he has some 300 pairs of Crocs, all orange, (maybe a few less now, as he’s just given away many pairs). Of course, a larger-than-life body size, and a ponytail help too. Mario finds orange so happy and uplifting that it’s the signature colour of brand Batali.
Caveat: Being noticed may get you flak, from time to time. Don’t be afraid.
2. Choose your philosophy
You simply cannot be everything to everyone. You have to choose to be yourself and that will dictate whom you connect with and who just won’t get you, ever. Choice is another word for Focus. When Mario first opened Babbo he chose to have rock and roll music with Italian food. People asked if they could listen to different stuff, if they could make requests; he refused. That was the uniqueness of the carefully curated experience he had envisioned for his guests. He was aware that there would be people who would hate it and not show up again. Yet he also knew that if he didn’t stand for something different, something special, he would just be another flavor-of-the-microsecond place.
Caveat: Choose thoughtfully.
3. Play to your strengths
Mario chose to attend college as he was undecided about whether he wanted to be a chef. After college, he went to Cordon Bleu but his heart wasn’t in it and he never completed the course. Today, he wishes he had and advises young chefs against dropping out. However, the lesson I see in his action is ‘Go with the food you know and love, not the one the world says is the best.’ Have the confidence to know what you excel at, what you love and then run with it.
Caveat: Be sure you know what your strengths are.
4. Value your heritage
The CNN reporter asked how it felt like being of Italian origin – Batali was quick to assert that he is a third generation American. Yet he also mentioned how his heritage and his grandmother’s cooking shaped his life. He described the time he visited a classmate’s house and saw a pack of store-bought sausages in the fridge. He was completely amazed, he didn’t know until then, that you could buy these things – his family always made them at home!
Caveat: Interpret your heritage for today.
5. It’s all about love
Love what you do. Love the people you work with. Love your community. And next but high-high-high in the pecking order: Love your family.
Mario seems to have this all sorted out. Love your life and it will love you back.
For his customers, Mario is always looking for new experiences to offer. That’s how Eataly the artisanal Italian food market, came about. He’s also giving back to needy children through the Mario Batali Foundation for children’s disease research, children’s hunger relief, and literacy programs.
And this seemingly perfect Dad also cooks his children breakfast and is back in time every evening, to have dinner with them at 6 pm. Further, to help his chefs grow with him and B&B (Batali& Bastianich), he just sets up new restaurants with them as partners.
More bonus point because he loves his friends – Gwyneth Paltrow’s one of them, so what’s not to love, for god’s sake. In fact, he did a cooking show with her, ‘Spain on the road again’, in their fave setting of Spain. He was on the road for a couple of months, doing that. You didn’t know Paltrow loves cooking? Well she does. And also claims Mario, she eats much more than he does! But she exercises like crazy so poof! the calories disappear.
Caveat: Doing something you love doesn’t mean you have it easy.
Sigh! Is there something this man hasn’t got figured? Well he’s a generous plus size so clearly, he doesn’t do skinny. And that’s exactly what I mean by making a choice. The world lusts after thin but he dives the other way. (Well, to be honest he did try losing some weight recently…) But still, these are his choices. And he lives by them, successfully, happily. If he tears his hair out every now and then, he hides it rather well.
That’s what we need to learn from him. Make our own happy choices and live by them, happily ever after.